The dark side of Asian crime rackets
Asian crime gangs are successful because their networks reach knows no bounds and from overseas they can co-ordinate kidnappings, human trafficking and murder those who get in their way.
The ability of international Asian gangs to "reach out" from overseas was shown in the case of a Vietnamese triad boss in London ordering hit men from California to abduct the son of a businesswoman in Melbourne because she had refused to launder money for the cartel in Russia.
It happened in mid-1996, when three Vietnamese-born criminals, one dubbed "the executioner", flew in from California under orders from the crime boss known as "Brother Phuc."
They abducted 21-year-old Le Anh Tuan from his Glen Waverley house on April 29. Police tapped lengthy telephone negotiations conducted in code between Brother Phuc and the victim's mother and then arrested the men. It was too late for Le Anh Tuan. His body was found in a stormwater drain in Noble Park six weeks later.
The telephone intercepts had recorded cryptic threats. The gangster told the mother if she did not hand over a huge sum, the "consequences for her family would not be good."
Tuan died a terrifying death through no fault of his own, victim of an ancient Asian criminal custom of demanding compliance from others with a single threat: cross us and we will kidnap and kill your eldest child. It created fear in enemies and total loyalty from subordinates.
Le Anh Tuan's abduction and murder is an example of a "punishment" murder that might be relevant to two prominent unsolved crimes in Australia.
Detectives learn to keep an open mind about the motivations for unwitnessed murders and disappearances. Sometimes people are murdered through mistaken identity. Sometimes for revenge. Sometimes they stage their own disappearances.
Paying a taxidermist to stuff a polar bear didn't turn out to be a great investment for "Steve" and "Tina", real names Istvan Gulyas and Duang Nhonthachith.
Gulyas picked up the stuffed bear on a Friday and took it to the couple's country getaway to add to a collection that already included a lion and a bison.
By that Sunday night, 48 hours later, there were two more bodies in the house. It was Gulyas and Nhonthachith themselves, bleeding from fresh bullet wounds.
Whether it was an enemy posing as a friend, a friend persuaded to change sides or a sneaky hired hit man, the unknown killer shot holes in the mafia theory about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.
That was on October 19, 2003. Police are no closer to nailing the killer now than they were when the bodies were discovered the next day.
Either the shooter knew the targets well enough to be invited into the property near Sunbury, northwest of Melbourne, or he knew how to get in unseen and leave the same way. There was no sign of forced entry.
By chance or design, the couple's guard dogs had been returned to their Coburg home by an employee after a barbecue earlier that day. The new electronic gate installed with a mesh security fence was not yet working.
Gulyas was killed as he sat on the couch watching television. "Tina" was almost certainly shot a second later. When their bodies were found the next day, the television and the heating were still on.
It looked like a "professional" execution. Both died instantly from three close-range head shots from a handgun.
Pulling the trigger was the easy bit for anyone callous enough to do it and cunning enough to engineer a situation with no witnesses. But getting away with it for so long suggests either it was well-planned or the killer was very lucky.
Not many murders go unsolved in Australia but the shooting of Gulyas the spooky Hungarian and "Tina" the Thai madam are on the short list of cold cases growing colder every year.
The double hit fits squarely into a pattern of organised crime with overseas links.
"Steve" and "Tina" were deeply involved in Australia's underground sex trade. Their so-called introductions agency, Partner Search Australia, was a false front for the sordid end of a dirty business: illegal brothels, in which desperate or deluded Asian women are effectively trapped by their own poverty, ignorance, naivety or greed.
There is no bombproof evidence that the Hungarian pimp and the Thai madam were killed because they upset other players in the vice racket, but that seems to be the only theory that fits the facts.
Police sources said Gulyas had allegedly employed underage Asian girls in the sex industry.
Three years before the murders, a man called John met and quickly married a Thai woman, Suree, through Partner Search Australia. Days after the marriage, Suree vanished. She returned but was terrified, would not go outside without John and begged him to install security such as a steel door, taller fences and security lights. They slept with a loaded gun. It didn't help. Suree vanished again, this time forever.
That sinister episode and its links to the murdered couple are part of the dark side of established nationwide Asian crime rackets extremely difficult for police to infiltrate.
Police inquiries are met with silence or noncommittal evasions and so sex, drugs, gambling, money laundering, visa fraud and sham marriages are hidden in plain sight. Because most of the criminal activity is veiled, outrages such as abduction murders and kidnappings for ransom stand out.
Heart surgeon Victor Chang was murdered in Sydney in 1991 in a failed extortion attempt by two Malay nationals. NSW state MP John Newman was shot dead outside his Cabramatta home in September, 1994 in what was Australia's first political assassination. A local club owner, Phuong Ngo, was eventually convicted of Newman's murder six years later.
Then there are the international conspiracies to commit revenge murders on Asians living in Australia.
In one, Malaysian Chinese crime bosses almost certainly ordered the killing of two Australian-based gamblers whose handcuffed and decomposed bodies were found in the Park Tower apartments in Melbourne's Spring St in April, 1996.
They were Stephen David Oh, 42, and a 28-year-old Malaysian citizen, Jeremy Ngoh Lone Wong, both shot in the head and the chest. Stephen Oh had opened the Fortuna Garden Restaurant in Adelaide's Chinatown in 1990. He was a well-known gambler connected with international drug trafficking. It is believed the pair was killed after crossing their crime bosses.
A friend of Stephen Oh, who feared he would be killed by the same people, told reporters the murdered man was "well connected" both here and internationally.
Oh had been filmed by a federal police anti-drug operation codenamed Manta Ray. He was linked to another man jailed six months earlier for importing 16.5kg of heroin, worth more than $40 million, Victoria's biggest heroin haul at the time.
Oh was never charged over the deal. Jeremy Wong was also interviewed over a heroin haul but never charged.
Investigators with open minds could not rule out the possibility that the murder of Karmein Chan in 1991 and the presumed abduction and murder of Bung Siriboon in 2011 could be linked to Asian crime networks.
From the night she vanished from her parents' Templestowe home in April 1991, Karmein Chan has been portrayed as another victim of the unknown serial paedophile "Mr Cruel".
One reason for the swift assumption that "Mr Cruel" abducted her is that she was a student at the same private school as another girl who had been released after being abducted and sexually assaulted.
If Karmein had gone to a local state school, perhaps investigators would have focused as much on the possibility of Asian organised crime from the start.
By the time Karmein's body was found a year later buried in Thomastown, the "Mr Cruel" theory had been, understandably, so widely promoted that it took on the aura of absolute fact. If Karmein had been found murdered after a week, not a year, the investigation might have followed a very different tack.
Karmein's father John Chan was a Chinese businessman who ran three restaurants with his wife, Phyllis. Like the Spring St murder victims, he was a gambler. Senior police dismissed the likelihood he had upset Asian organised crime groups through business or gambling, but not all investigators were convinced.
A complicating factor, some hinted privately, was that a high-ranking officer was a regular guest of the Chans' main restaurant. Did his connection with the Chan family nudge the investigation away from any suggestion of organised crime?
In the first terrible weeks of his daughter's disappearance, John Chan told a reporter that although police had found him "clean", it was possible the kidnapper thought he had "done something wrong and took my girl." It appears to be a subtle concession that the stricken father had some doubts about the "Mr Cruel" theory.
Particularly troubling is the fact that Karmein was shot in the head, executed with the same brutal, semi-military precision as other Asian abduction victims Lee Anh Tuan, Stephen Oh and Jeremy Ngoh Lone Wong. Not to mention "Steve" Gulyas and Duang Nhonthachith.
But the discovery she had been cold-bloodedly executed came a year too late to alter the course of a massive investigation aimed at finding a softly-spoken white paedophile who treated his victims gently.
ASIAN CRIME HISTORY
The history of Asian crime in Australia suggests there is little that some crime groups won't do. This raises the possibility that such shadowy groups could be linked to the other notorious unsolved crime involving an Asian schoolgirl in Australia: the presumed abduction and murder of "Bung" Siriboon in the outer Melbourne suburb of Boronia in 2011.
Bung, real name Sirikayorn, was the daughter of a Thai woman who had married Australian-born Fred Pattison after meeting him when she visited Australia a little earlier. Vanidda belonged to a humble village family from rural Thailand. The circumstances in which she had visited Australia to work is unclear except, possibly, to police and those who know her best.
The marriage, established beyond doubt as happy and genuine, meant that Vanidda and her two Thai-born daughters could live in relative comfort with Mr Pattison, a kindly and decent man who worked at an eastern suburbs factory.
Bung, relatively small at age 13, left to walk to the local high school along Elsie St on the morning of June 2, 2011. She never got there. The assumption was she was grabbed by an opportunist sex offender.
After the inevitable delay before police realised the disappearance was not just another teenage truancy, investigators concentrated on eliminating known sex offenders.
In 2014, they revealed a report that an Asian schoolgirl had been seen in a white Ford Falcon travelling east on Boronia Rd between 8.30am and 9am on the morning Bung disappeared. The driver was described as a middle-aged white man with "rock and roll'' slick-back hair, blue singlet and colourful tattoo on one arm.
That man has either not been found or has been quietly cleared from the inquiry. What's not clear is whether a similarly exhaustive effort has probed the possibility that Bung's family had become targets of some hidden criminal "payback".
Police apparently found no link between Bung's Thai mother and anyone who might have a hidden grievance against her or her Australian husband. That does not prove there was no such grievance.
While it is true that the Asian criminal custom is to kill the oldest child, which Bung was not, "payback" is the only viable alternative scenario to an opportunist abduction by a sex offender, or to a teenager successfully hiding herself for a decade.
Bung's older sister, a tertiary student, would mostly walk the much shorter distance to Boronia railway station, a busy route crowded with potential witnesses. Bung, smaller and weaker, walked every day in the other direction along a relatively deserted residential street.
Anyone watching the family would realise the younger girl was an easier target. The question remains, after nine years, is who was watching her, if it wasn't a spontaneous crime? The same question still hangs over Karmein Chan's family.
Asian criminals are not the only ones to target children for revenge killings. The abduction and murder of Prue Bird in 1992 was ultimately linked to the fact that her grandmother's partner Paul Hetzel had given evidence against the gang that bombed Russell Street police station some years earlier. But it took a long time for investigators to see it that way.
For too long, poor Prue Bird was seen as just another runaway.
Originally published as The dark side of Asian crime rackets